Spanning over two days, the Indo-Africa Strategic Dialogue was a new step forward in India Africa relations after the failure of the Indo-Africa Summit of 2008 at Addis Ababa. As critical as it was, it is quiet shocking that it received such little media coverage and government involvement. This was the third in the series with the preceeding ones held in 2011 and 2013 and at The Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses on March 3 and 4. A small but intelligent group of people mostly comprising diplomats, ex-diplomats, defence personnels, and academicians were the audience as well as speakers as discussions about Indo-Africa relations took place all day long from 10 am to 5 pm.
With “Building synergies in peace security and development” as the theme, the focus was mostly on Africa and conflict resolution within the continent as it grapples with issues of terrorism, civil war, epidemics, and poverty, to state a few. In such a situation it did not entirely come as a surprise that while the Africans were more concerned with learning from Indian political experiences (especially since 12 African countries will be undergoing elections this year, some for the very first time) and needing help on soft issues, the Indians focused much more on building trade and increasing investments within the continent.
Ideals of the Non Alignment Movement (NAM) echoed too, as delegates from both countries looked back to their glorious ties and shared histories while stressing upon the need for South-South cooperation and nationally determined policies rather than those dictated from Washington or Beijing. With China, India, and Turkey making their presence felt in the continent like never before, the issue of land grabbing was also a concern that was pointed out time and again. The worry that Africa was turning merely into an exporter of primary goods was also spelled out.
Considering how both India and the African countries are still developing it was not a surprise to see how under played climate change was, with very less discussion and debate on the real environmental concerns that these developing nations are struggling with.
The need to be exempt from any of the restrictions that the developed North was subjected to was clear as the phrase “shared but differentiated responsibility” was repeated time and again.
Despite the level of discussion it was quite sad to see that the two day strategic dialogue was not followed up by a plan that could look for ways of implementation of the inferences reached. Lack of formal involvement of embassies’ and the government was also disheartening, something that even Amb. Shashank, former Foreign Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, also admitted to. However, on the whole one cannot ignore the fact that it was a great step towards better cooperation between India and Africa especially at a time when there is dearth of high level visits between these countries.